Behaviour 101

Behavioural Science is the science of human behaviour. This blog aims to give a very, very broad overview. The key terms will be explained and how it can be applied to coaching.

There is a key link between people’s behaviour and the environment they operate in. The environment is classed as everything around us i.e. the physical things (ball, pitch etc) and the people (players, coaches, ref, fans). This environment affects whether certain behaviours are more or less likely to occur. Think how different a game would be without a ref or whether a game is played on a lush grass pitch or indoors on a hard court? My aim as a coach is to create the right environment to deliver the correct behaviours.

Behaviour is no more than “what we say and do” Therefore a completed side foot pass from John to Phil could be described as a behaviour. By creating the correct behaviours at the right time, we are trying to create a culture of continual improvement which is crucial for development. For this effective culture to be created we need to depend on consequences to drive the required behaviour. Please note behaviour is not about attitudes, as attitudes are difficult to measure and does not always result in behaviour change. My aim is to consider the culture in terms of the consequences available for behaviour.

All behaviour occurs under a set of circumstances and is followed by particular outcomes. There is a simple module which is used A-B-C, where:

Antecedent – is a prompt that happens before behaviour

Behaviour – what we say and do (eg the observed behaviour, the pass)

Consequence – outcomes of the behaviour

Consequences are the key. When a player reliably behaves in a certain way, there is usually a reliable consequence for that behaviour.

Types of Consequence

Consequences either strengthen or weaken behaviour. Those that strengthen behaviour are called reinforcers and those that weaken it are called punishers. 

Consequences that are added are positive and those that are removed are negative i.e.a positive reinforcer would be praise for a well placed pass to the correct player whereas a negative reinforcer may be a dressing down for a misplaced pass.

Generally, increasing positive reinforcement compared to other forms of consequences is considered best for performance improvement. However, other consequences can be used effectively where the situation dictates. Basically, positive reinforcement ensures players do things because they want to rather than because they have to (negative reinforcement). The key in the ABC analysis is consequences but we, as coaches, do not always provide these consequences on the players performance. The coach, therefore, plays a key role in being the major consequence provider to the player. Sometimes we get frustrated at players for not doing what we told them to do and think less of that player. Whereas we need to ask ourselves ‘Did we provide the consequences that would encourage that player to do what we asked?’

Another key term is Shaping. These are the small incremental steps in behaviour that we need to change to drive the required performance. Coaches play the major part in setting the expectations. We need to provide the expected consequences for the behaviour we see. Whether a coach likes it or not, he is providing consequences to his players. They may be active, inactive, intended or unintended consequences. The best coaches deliberately design the environment to ensure the required behaviours are positively reinforced. This creates the correct culture. Without this design, you are leaving the performance of these behaviours to chance!

The next blog will look at how a coach can design and practically implement behavioural science in their sessions.

Behaviour 101

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